Hep C Treatment: Do We Or Don’t We? And Who the Hell Does Egypt Know That We Don’t?

I’m going to  ask you to hang with me on this one.  It is a lesson in pharmaceutical pricing and what your insurance will/can pay. Medicaid can’t! 

I worked in Big Pharma Research and Medical Affairs for a quarter century.  So? I see pricing strategies for Hepatitis C treatment compounds and they will affect you.  Let’s look at:

  1. Pricing Strategies for Big Pharma, and they DO have one for who, how much, and how long
  2. How some get to bypass this pricing strategy entirely
  3. Why patients will unnecessarily suffer with this curable Hep C

These days you can’t swing a cat without uncovering a new treatment on the horizon!  Good! Right?  Mostly.  Big Pharma competitors have a short time on top and intend to make  as much profit for stakeholders (stock holders)as possible.  It is the job.

Remember when Vertex launched Incivek (telaprevir) fourteen months ago?  First new drug in forever.  All new patients were given Incivek along with the standard cocktail of Interferon/Ribavirin.  Vertex was the new darling in hepatology, for a year. Sales went from $76.1 Million Q 1 2013 to $44.3 Million Q 4 2013. Now they have dropped out of Hep C research because there is a new rock star launch; Gilead Sciences with Sovaldi (sofusbuvir).

“Record sales of a new hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, pushed the first-quarter earnings of Gilead Sciences far beyond expectations, the company reported on Tuesday, Sovaldi (sofusbuvir), the company’s $1,000-a-pill medicine to treat hepatitis C, had sales of $2.27 billion in the first quarter, the company said in a statement. That beat an average of analyst estimates by more than $1 billion. The Foster City, California-based company also reported profit excluding certain items of $1.48 a share, beating by 56 cents the analysts’ average estimate (GILD:US). (Yes that is Billion not Million.) The hepatitis C sales are “above even the high end of buy-side expectations,” Mark Schoenebaum, an analyst with ISI Group LLC in New York, said in a note to clients. He called it the best drug introduction in history. Gilead, the world’s biggest makers of HIV drugs, yesterday reported total first-quarter revenue of $5 billion.

Gilead is awaiting U.S. regulatory approval of a two-drug combination with Sovaldi that does away with shots that boost the immune system, yet produce side effects. Company executives said they are aware of the price criticism and the sustainability of spending on the drug. “There are natural limits on what I think is appropriate for next generation products,” Chief Operating Officer John Milligan said yesterday on a conference call.”

 

“If cost were not a factor, we would want to treat the entire population,” said Dr. Rena Fox, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She said it was frustrating that “we finally get this great treatment and then we withhold it.” 

Ah,  my point exactly.

And then there is Egypt. Yes that Egypt.

On March 12 the Egyptians declared  that negotiations between the ministry and the American company were successful and Egypt will obtain the drug for only 1 percent of its price internationally, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm. Adawy, Minister.  The price of a one-month prescription in Egypt will cost $300 while in the U.S. it costs $28,000 a month. (Yes that is Hundred, not Thousand).  The full course will cost $13,000 instead of the $168,000 it costs in the U.S.. They agreed to support making hepatitis c a top priority and to intensify efforts to provide the required medicine at “affordable prices”. According to Reuters, Gilead said on March 22 that it was “pleased to have finalized an agreement” to provide the cure to Egypt, one of the countries with the highest rate of hepatitis C patients.

 

 

May 6, 2014:  Janssen Submits Supplemental New Drug Application to U.S. FDA for OLYSIO™ (Simeprevir) for Once-Daily Use in Combination with Sofosbuvir for 12 Weeks for the Treatment of Adult Patients with Genotype 1 Chronic Hepatitis C. AbbVie, Merck, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb and Johnson & Johnson have potential treatments on the horizon. This is why Gilead is gouging now.  Big Pharma calls it recouping research money. Some is profit too.   It’s all perspective.  Which a Hep C patient is sorely missing.

I shit you not. Thanks for hanging with me on Big Pharma Pricing.  Now you can teach MBA students.  I am feeling powerless though.  Maybe you know someone in Egypt.

One last thought:  I am clear of Hep C Virus after two years and I wish this for you.

Go see my friends at http://www.hepatitiscnews.com  They have great helpful news all the time!

hcvnewdrugs@gmail.com

 

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-04-22/gilead-beats-hepatitis-c-sales-estimates-by-1-billion

 

http://www.fiercepharma.com/story/vertex-profits-one-time-gain-despite-plummeting-incivek-sales/2014-01-29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Depression Road Goes On Forever and The Party Never Ends *

Hepatitis C and Depression: I should be weary of this subject, but I’m only weary of depression. Thirteen months ago I completed a clinical trial for Hepatitis C. I was cured, c-u-r-e-d.

 GS-US-256-0124-A Phase 2B, Trial Evaluating Using Combinations of Oral Antivirals (GS-5885, GS-9451), PegInterferon Α and Ribavirin In Treatment Experienced Subjects  With Chronic Genotype 1 Hepatitis C Virus Infection

Last month I went in for my one-year follow-up visit where it was confirmed “No Virus After One Year!”.  Okay, maybe it’s true.  Maybe. I answered questions about my mental well-being.  I felt great and said so.  Later I remembered that I felt great because I was on two anti-depressant drugs, Lexapro (escitalopram)  and Wellbutrin (bupropion XL) with a splash of trazodone at bedtime.

BTW, I think everyone should speak about their antidepressants. I know there’s a bunch of us out there.  Just look at the sales $$$.     I worked for Lilly when they launched Prozac.  Rather than get it for free, I paid at the retail pharmacy because I didn’t want anyone to know.  That’s Bull Corn.  Bull Corn?  Where did that come from?

Where was I?  So two weeks ago, my psychiatrist,  (who treats Hep C patients) began to decrease the Lexapro with the goal of decreasing my antidepressant load.  My scaffolding crumbled under me and I spiraled into an anxiety-ridden, weeping insomniac in just a few days and nights.

I've come undone
I’ve come undone

.So,  I am miserable and looking at increasing drugs.  My first thought was that I am FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Reason/Recognition/Repair  military slang) and that’s that.  My second thought was to work closely with Dr _ who assures me that this is a minor setback. Minor to someone else maybe. How quickly I become self-absorbed.

Now, after 400 words, the reason for this blog.  Today I received this article from  Medscape.

 Psychiatric Treatment Considerations With Direct Acting Antivirals in Hepatitis C   Sanjeev Sockalingam, Alice Tseng, Pierre Giguere, David Wong
BMC Gastroenterol. 2013;13(86)

(Newly published articles in my areas of interest for August 9, 2013: Medscape)

Can’t resist the title can you?  I know I can’t.

Being a Doctor of Pharmacy and a scientist, I love articles like this. It takes my entire nineteen years of schooling to follow the data dump. Gastroenterologists and Psychiatrists won’t read this article. It falls into a discrete category that gets filtered out during literature searches. DAAs means previrs ( boceprevir / telaprevir).

Abstract

Background Despite recent advances in hepatitis C (HCV) treatment, specifically the addition of direct acting antivirals (DAAs), pegylated interferon-alpha remains the backbone of HCV therapy. Therefore, the impact of DAAs on the management of co-morbid psychiatric illness and neuropsychiatric sequelae remains an ongoing concern during HCV therapy. This paper provides a review of the neuropsychiatric adverse effects of DAAs and drug-drug interactions (DDIs) between DAAs and psychiatric medications.

Methods We conducted a PubMed search using relevant search terms and hand searched reference lists of related review articles. In addition, we searched abstracts for major hepatology conferences and contacted respective pharmaceutical companies for additional studies.

Results Limited data is available on the neuropsychiatric adverse effects of DAAs; however, data from major clinical trials suggest that DAAs have minimal neuropsychiatric risk. DAAs can potentially interact with a variety of psychotropic agents via cytochrome P450 and p-glycoprotein interactions. Triazolam, oral midazolam, St. John’s Wort, carbamazepine and pimozide, are contraindicated with DAAs. DDIs between DAAs and antidepressants, anxiolytics, hypnotics, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and treatments for opioid dependence are summarized.

Conclusions Although DAAs do not add significant neuropsychiatric risk, the potential for DDIs is high. Consideration of DDIs is paramount to improving medication adherence and mitigating adverse effects during HCV therapy.

So the abstract  (I saved you from the entire article)  kinda says: We don’t know enough to draw any conclusions so we caution you when using any drugs metabolized by the liver, including antidepressants. Terms: pharmacokinetics (where the drug goes in your body and how your body changes it to water-soluble (pee), or fat-soluble (poop) to get rid of the drug:  pharmacodynamics , what the drug does to your body to heal you and how it does it. This is for one drug. Think about a bunch of drugs where the liver and maybe kidneys do not work well.  There is a traffic jam and a couple of fights at the entry to your liver and the drugs build up in your blood.   Crash.

This is a year of my life

CPY 450 System, took me years

And so I say to you what any good or bad pharmacist would say:  “Caveat Emptor”.  Actually,  the pharmacist will put warning stickers all over the bottle and give you a packet of small print information.  Then she will make you sign that you have been counseled.

Beware the Jabberwok

Caveat Emptor

* A nod to the awesome Robert Earl Keen Jr. http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-road-goes-on-forever-lyrics-robert-earl-keen.html

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/HCV_Neg.pdf  This is awesome for those like me.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/807927?src=wnl_edit_tpal&uac=190805DY

Things Not To Say to Someone Who Just Completed Hepatitis C Treatment

Now What?

Now What?

  • You were in treatment?  I just thought you were aging badly.
  • Now make sure you don’t get it again (my personal favorite)
  • How do you celebrate without alcohol?
  • How can you be sure you are cured? I’ve heard it comes back.
  • I heard of a guy that went two years then his liver blew up.
  • Some guy finished treatment then killed himself.
  • Can you talk to my husband?  He won’t quit drinking and drugging.
  • I saw a website that says St John’s Wort works better.
  • Want to volunteer at the hospice?
  • Too bad you have to give up your handicap placard.
  • Glad you finished.  Maybe you won’t be such a moody A Hole now.
  • You should have waited for newer treatments.  They are better.
  • Now, shut up about your symptoms.
  • Good, now get off your butt and do something.
  • Now what?

Hepatitis C: Been A Long Time Leaving But’ll Be A Long Time Gone

My dad was a Waylon Jennings man.  I think he liked the big FU that Waylon projected.  I paraphrase Waylon.  “I been a long time leaving Hepatitis C, but I’ll be a long time gone”

So after three years of treatment-plus the maybe five years of falling apart, I get a voice mail that says “Hi Deb, this is the message you’ve been waiting for.  Still no detectable virus, so you’re cured.  See you in 24 weeks”.  Glad I go back in 24 weeks, so I can ween myself off of the Texas Medical Center.  This follow-up lasts a couple of years.  Now what?  I don’t care.  Today I am neither a patient nor a scientist.

Yep, I’m doing this in Kerala

I can do anything I want.  I will start with a trip to India this week. No shit.  BTW I tried to say this without the word shit, but it didn’t sound like me.  Waylon and India.  That’s all I got to say for now.

http://www.biography.com/people/waylon-jennings-9354063

www.natmystic.com

Hepatitis C: Is that a Real Poncho or is that a Sears Poncho?

Mothers of invention, Theatre de Clichy, Paris...

Mothers of invention, Theatre de Clichy, Paris, 1970-1972 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Look here brother,
Who you jivin’ with that Cosmik Debris?
Now is that a  real poncho or is that a Sears poncho?  Hmmm, no foolin’?”

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

Do you have a liver doctor (hepatologist) or a gastroenterologist?  Many people start out with a liver doc then over to a local gastro for long-term treatment management.  Kinda like selling your mortgage to a broker that does home mortgaging on the side but commercial financing is his bag.  I know, lame example.

Now a gastroenterologist is trained on the liver but probably hasn’t thought much about it since his fellowship at school.  Why?  Because his specialty is the GI tract (esophagus to anus).  In fact many gastroenterologists spend so much time with endoscopy or colonoscopy, they are refered to as “Scope Monkeys”.   The liver is not part of the GI tube.  No foolin’

Follow the GI tract from esophagus to anus. Then look at the liver.

Members of the two GI national associations, the American Society of Gastroenterology and Endoscopy (ASGE) plus the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), do not attend meetings with the American  Association of the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) and visa versa, unless presenting new research data.  But they don’t attend each other’s lectures. I know. For decades I attended the joint meetings of ASGE and ACG. It is difficult for a gastroenterologist to stay current on evolving treatments for Hepatitis C.  And these days the treatment (r)evolution is on.

Two weeks ago the AASLD and the EASL (European Association of the Study of the Liver) met in Prague to discuss Hepatitis C and:

  • Global scale intervention and control of HCV – OK
  • Prospects for a preventive HCV vaccine – OK
  • Review of new drug treatments in development such as Nonnucleoside inhibitors of HCV RNA polymerase, NS5A inhibitors, and Cyclophylin inhibitors – Important to you
  • Effectiveness of triple combinations in cirrhotics Important to a lot of you

Why do I mention this?  Here is an example of why.  Treatment of Hepatitis C is complicated and lasts a long time. The ribavirin induced anemia is treated by dose reductions based on your weight.  If your red blood cells (RBCs) drop below 10 mg/dl, Ribavirin is reduced by 20%.  If the RBC number does not increase in a few weeks, dosing must decrease another 20%.  But the dose cannot drop below 600 mg.  Now adding the protease inhibitors telaprevir and boceprevir,who knows what happens to RBCs in you?  Does the gastroenterologist know that?  Doubtful.  Does he know about the new drugs that work at different sites on the virus?  No.

Your insurance co-pay is probably the same regardless of which specialist  you visit.  Why not go with the real poncho?  BTW I couldn’t find a real poncho, only a Sears type poncho.  No foolin’

References

http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/78854/#mjbJdWKO6aRwIzk0.99

http://www2.kenes.com/PRAGUE2012/SCIENTIFIC/Pages/ScientificProgramme.aspx

http://www.natap.org/2012/APASL/APASL_08.htm

http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/SEM_anemia.pdf

I Pooped Today, Things to Track with Hepatitis C Treatment

“I Pooped Today”  Important information to track while on Hepatitis C treatment

If you choose to participate in a drug study while being treated for Hepatitis C, be prepared to keep a diary.  Most of these examples are from round one.  You know what they say about experience:  There are those that got it and those that are going to get it.  I’ve been both.  During round two, I knew a lot of holes were out there and walked around them.  Or paved them in advanced.  I did find new ones.

Dear Diary:

How many bowel movements have you had since your last visit? What color is it? I think this is a test to see if I am fixated on poop.  BTW Your family doesn’t want to know about your poop even if they pretend to.  Most people on treatment have frequent stools but not me.  See, don’t you wish you didn’t know?

Get comfortable discussing your bodily functions with everyone in a white coat. You haven’t had dignity for a while. How dark is your urine? I don’t know, it’s diluted when it hits the toilet bowl. Does it smell? I really want to make a nose joke here.

How’s your eating? Food smells and tastes like pennies and my stomach burns. Have you tried not eating spicy foods? I am only eating buttered noodles and Little Debbie Oatmeal Cakes.  Oh.

Brain fog “Loss of ability to concentrate. Memory loss”   How has your memory been?Huh?    Non-participative.  Try to write everything down in one place.  I can’t seem to find my notebook, so I start another. Kinda makes it worse.Try to hold a job let alone a career with that side effect.

Did I take my medicine? When did I take my medicine? Did I take it in lemon duck? Did I take it with a eunuch?  Did I take it on my death-bed?  Did it make me see a dragon’s head?  Write it all down, you won’t remember.  (ref Brain Fog)

Try to get as much sleep as you can. Brilliant. Now I lay me down to sleep, to lie awake with Lil Bo Peep.  Okay, a bit too much rhyming.  But today my brain wants to rhyme. 

Avoid undue excitement. You mean like my brain running The Fifth Element  Flossing Paradise 24/7? We can prescribe sleep medications. Why didn’t you tell me that 6 months ago?

We recommend aerobic exercise 15-20 minutes/day. Are you shitting me? Do I keep track if you are shitting me?

How many times did you have a blinding H/A this week? How many not so blinding?  Let me see, I cry a couple of times a day.  Crying results in a blinding headache.  So I hold in the crying.  The result, “not blinding” headache.  I’m not sure if I am crying on the inside or outside.

Rashes and skin changes. Is that because of medications or just old spots?  What about the ones that are 3-D?

My skin itches. Take an antihistamine. I did. Take Benadryl 50 mg. Spit will fall out of my mouth if I have any secretions Can I see a dermatologist about this?  Sure but it will be weeks before we can get you in.  WTF is a dermatologist so busy doing?

How has your mental health been since your last visit? Can you draw a line on this form to show the change? I can’t give you any more instructions, even if you don’t understand this (silly) form.  The -Y axis is not long enough to document  the rate of my decline.

Do you think we should put you on antidepressants? I don’t know who I am much less what I need. Have you had suicidal or homicidal thoughts? I can’t remember. With or without headaches?

It is Tuesday, time for my weekly injection. Just when I was feeling up line dancing in a circle (props go Dos XX commercial). Where was your injection site last week? In my forehead with a silver bullet.

Because my Hemoglobin (HgB) is so low, I can’t walk  from the parking structure to my work appointments. Can I get a Handicap Placard? No one has ever asked for one before. So can I get one? Bring us the form. The Dr. will have to sign it.

License branch information booth: Do I have to stand in the long line with the masses? If I could stand that long I wouldn’t need a Handicap placard. Then bring someone to stand in line for you. Next